Back To CourseHistory 109: Western Europe Since 1945
14 chapters | 134 lessons
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Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.
Do you have someone in your life that you consider your own personal 'rock?' No matter what happens, be it graduations, the birth of a niece or nephew, or the death of a loved one, he or she always seems to remain calm, cool, and collected?
In the 1980s the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner to today's European Union (EU), was a lot like Europe's 'rock.' As the protests against communism erupted across Eastern Europe, culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and social unrest exploded in the Balkans, the member states of the EU continued their incremental progress toward greater European integration and economic growth for all.
One of the first things the EEC did in the 1980s was admit new members. The nine member states - France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, West Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Denmark - welcomed their tenth member on January 1, 1981: Greece. Five years later, the two Iberian nations, Spain and Portugal, also joined. These three nations are unique in that they were all emerging from periods of dictatorial and/or fascist rule.
For example, Francisco Franco had ruled in Spain since the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s until his death in 1975. All three countries instituted representative democracies in the aftermath, and all three hoped that admission into a pan-European economic partnership would help solidify their democracies. After all, with EEC membership in hand, it would now be in the interest of all EEC members that the remaining fascist elements in these three countries never came to power again.
Not all EEC nations were happy with further expansion. Several commentators, including French President Francois Mitterand, worried that the admission of weaker economies like Spain, Portugal and Greece might do overall harm to the EEC's trade balance.
The Spanish and Portuguese currencies, for instance, were worth far less than was allowed under the EEC system, which fixed the currencies of member states to each other. Special provisions had to be made in 1989, when both currencies were admitted to the EEC's exchange-rate mechanism system; the Spanish peseta and Portuguese escudo were allowed to fluctuate up to six percent above or below other currencies, rather than the 2.25% the exchange-rate mechanism required of other nation's currencies.
By the mid-1980s, three decades of concerted efforts at integrating various sectors of the EEC's member states' economies had resulted in an interconnectedness between national economies unrivaled elsewhere in the world. In addition to the currency controls just discussed, food production and prices were managed across all countries centrally by the EEC, and nuclear energy across the region was managed by a single organization, EURATOM.
Additionally, there were no tariffs between the member states and very few on international imports. Nonetheless, by the mid-1980s the EEC concluded that goods and people were not moving across borders enough to foster the prosperity of the entire Eurozone, and transfer payments between nations that had been set up in the 1970s were not enough to eliminate the imbalance.
As a result, the EEC member states created the Single European Act (SEA) in 1986, meant to revise the late 1950s' Treaties of Rome, which had originally founded the organization. The SEA expanded the roles and areas of governance which the EEC had control over, including into important fields like scientific research and development. This included the 'Esprit' program, which actually began two years before the SEA took effect. Its chief role was to use European funds to foster interesting scientific and technological projects, especially in information technology, throughout the Eurozone.
However, the SEA's main goal was to encourage further economic activity and migration between EEC countries and create a common, internal market by the early 1990s. The SEA's lofty goal was to complete the internal market which earlier reforms, such as the removal of tariffs, had initiated. It did this mainly through expanding the jurisdiction and authority of central EEC institutions like the European Parliament.
In addition, in most councils prior to the SEA, the EEC required unanimity in any major decisions; the SEA made only a majority vote necessary to move a resolution forward, especially if that decision pertained to the creation of a common, internal market. Finally, the SEA also called for the development of a single, EEC foreign policy, to remove the possibility of disagreement or external trade relations which might hinder the creation of the common market.
As the EEC was moving forward to create a singular economic zone among the EEC member states, Europe's other singular economic zone, the communist Soviet Union and Eastern European states, was falling apart. In the early 1980s, trade unions in Poland, led by Lech Walesa, had instigated for changes to the Polish government and more rights for trade unions. Though concessions were initially made, the government soon imposed martial law, ending any further reform.
The grievances in Poland were symptomatic of a faltering economic and political system. The Soviet premier of the mid-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev, recognized this and tried to slowly introduce liberal political and economic reforms, a package known by the two Russian words of glasnost and perestroika. These measures largely failed to address the systemic economic problems in the communist east and only led to further calls for greater political reform. By the late 1980s, communist governments were falling across Eastern Europe and states from Central Asia to the Baltic coast were declaring independence from the Soviet Union. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and East and West Germany were reunited only the following year.
The fall of communism posed an interesting question to the EEC member states, especially Germany. Germany, after all, had to integrate its other half into the EEC's advanced, capitalist system after East Germany had spent nearly a half-century practicing communism. The transition was not easy. The rest of the EEC had to decide how to move forward with its newly opened neighbors to the east - would it shun Eastern Europe in order to maintain the robust economic growth of the EEC, or would it encourage Eastern European membership in the hope of even greater continental harmony and prosperity? These questions would be answered in the following decades - answers you will have to find out by watching the next lesson!
The 1980s were a terrific period of upheaval for Eastern Europe as both communism and the Berlin Wall came crashing down, but the 1980s was another decade of incremental progress and expansion for members of the European Economic Community. The EEC added three new members: Greece, Portugal, and Spain.
It also greatly expanded its purview through the Single European Act, which gave it greater jurisdiction over other sectors of its members' economies, especially in research and development. The SEA also made it a stated goal of the EEC to have its internal, common market in place by the early 1990s. Whether this goal could be realized, however, would be greatly influenced by how the EEC's nations confronted the greatest event in Europe in the late 1980s: the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
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Back To CourseHistory 109: Western Europe Since 1945
14 chapters | 134 lessons